Ibuprofen Skin Patch Benefits

Every new invention or breakthrough in some way attributes its origins to the work of others. New medicines and new formulations of medicines are no different. If you're able to improve on the design of another scientist, and your advance is more effective, more convenient and safer, you're probably on to something.

Man holding his knee, which is covered in a brace
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Lots of hype surrounded news of an ibuprofen skin patch being developed by researchers at the University of Warwick and their subsidiary company Medherant. The patch delivery system is purportedly more potent, less messy and delivers medication more evenly than anything we have yet to stick on our bodies.

What Ibuprofen Is

Ibuprofen (think Advil or Motrin) is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which reversibly inhibits cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzymes thus interfering with prostaglandin production. By interfering with prostaglandin synthesis, ibuprofen helps reduce pain, inflammation, and fever. Of note, other NSAIDs include aspirin and naproxen.

Experts hypothesize that in addition to disrupting prostaglandin production, ibuprofen may also battle inflammation by affecting the blood in other ways, including alteration of lymphocyte activity, inhibition of chemotaxis, inhibition of neutrophil aggregation or activation, and decrease in proinflammatory cytokine levels.

What Ibuprofen Is Used For

Ibuprofen is used to lower fever as well as treat various aches and pains, such as those caused by headache, back injury, arthritis, toothache, and menstruation. Interestingly, NSAIDs like ibuprofen are really good at treating the pain of kidney stones. Moreover, ibuprofen can be combined with opioids (such as hydrocodone) to treat more severe pain.

How Ibuprofen Is Administered

Various routes of administration exist for ibuprofen, including pills, injection, and gels. Here are some proposed benefits of the ibuprofen patch and its advanced polymer technology:

  • New technology allows the patch to be loaded with five to 10 times more medication. In other words, 30 percent of the weight of the patch is actual medication.
  • Release of medication into the body is more consistent and can work up to 12 hours. Currently, people on high dosages of ibuprofen may need to swallow pills every four hours.
  • The patch is more adhesive, flexible, comfortable and discrete than other patches. Furthermore, the patch leaves less residue and is small and transparent.

The ibuprofen patch was designed using new polymer technology created by a company called Bostik and licensed for transdermal use by Medherant.

Potential Applications Could Be Game-Changing

According to Medherant, many of the pain-relief patches that are currently available contain no painkiller medication and instead release heat (think menthol). Thus, these patches of old are limited in their uses. Medherant's new ibuprofen patch is innovative in several ways.

First, because the patch is inconspicuous, long-acting and easy-to-use, it will likely prove particularly beneficial to certain patient populations like athletes and people who have issues with medication adherence.

For example, an athlete could apply the patch to an area of strain or sprain and practice for hours, or a person who is taking lots of medications could have fewer pills to worry about.

Second, by bypassing the stomach and releasing medication straight through the skin, the ibuprofen patch would result in no stomach upset, a common adverse effect in those on high dosages of oral NSAIDs.

Third, the technology used to develop this patch can be co-opted to deliver other types of medications—medications, which like ibuprofen, were once unamenable to patch administration.

Of note, other pain relievers are also administered in patch form like fentanyl (an opioid) and lidocaine (a topical anesthetic), and it would be interesting to see if this new patch technology could improve the administration of these drugs, too.

Adverse Effects of Ibuprofen Are Low

Ibuprofen is sold over the counter and the risk of adverse effects is low. Stomach irritation is by far the most common adverse effect of NSAIDs like ibuprofen. Some other adverse effects of ibuprofen might include bleeds (like brain bleeds or stroke) and ulcer irritation.

As previously mentioned, the makers of the ibuprofen patch claim that with their patch, there is less risk of stomach irritation because the medication is absorbed by the skin, not by the gastrointestinal tract.

However, in rare cases, ibuprofen can cause nasty rashes, hives and other skin reactions. People with a history of atopy, or those who are "hyperallergic" and suffer from eczema, hay fever, and allergic asthma, are more likely to be allergic to ibuprofen. Nevertheless, people without atopy have developed an allergy to ibuprofen.

The ibuprofen patch is further away from hitting the market and has yet to be FDA approved. So far, there is little published research on the patch and we'll need to see more actual data before we truly understand this new formulation.

For instance, it's unclear whether the increased dose and sustained topical delivery of the ibuprofen patch could somehow exacerbate skin reactions in those who are allergic to NSAIDs. 

Looking forward, Medherant, the maker of the ibuprofen patch, anticipates that its novel drug-delivery system will be used to administer other drugs and over-the-counter painkillers many of which were previously unavailable in patch form. For instance, Medherant is experimenting with a methyl salicylate patch. (Methyl salicylate is the main active ingredient in BENGAY.)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an ibuprofen patch?

    An ibuprofen patch is a medicinal skin patch currently undergoing research and development. Instead of taking ibuprofen as a pill, gel, or injection, the ibuprofen patch delivers medication as a topical solution. Additionally, it is said to contain more medication and work longer than other methods of administration.

  • Is ibuprofen good for kidney stone pain?

    Yes, ibuprofen is good for kidney stone pain treatment. Other NSAIDs are also considered effective methods of managing pain. The best way to stop kidney stone pain is through prevention; drinking plenty of water, reducing daily sodium intake, and eating less meat are simple lifestyle changes that can lower the risk of developing kidney stones.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Ibuprofen.

  2. Favus MJ, Feingold KR. Kidney stone emergencies. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext.

  3. Manoukian MAC, Migdal CW, Tembhekar AR, Harris JA, DeMesa C. Topical administration of ibuprofen for injured athletes: Considerations, formulations, and comparison to oral deliverySports Med Open. 3(1):36. doi:10.1186/s40798-017-0103-2

  4. Park K, Bavry AA. Risk of stroke associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 10:25-32. doi:10.2147/VHRM.S54159

  5. Blumenthal KG, Lai KH, Huang M, Wallace ZS, Wickner PG, Zhou L. Adverse and hypersensitivity reactions to prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents in a large health care system. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 5(3):737-743.e3. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2016.12.006

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, is a medical writer and editor covering new treatments and trending health news.